How do you fix the 'Never Again' rallying cry?
Editor's note: This is the final installment of a three-part series outlining our contemporary remembrance of Martial Law. The first of the author's op-ed piece, "Why has Marcos' propaganda lived on?" examines the effects of Martial Law denialism, perhaps best manifested in the Marcos clan's continued rise in political power. The second, "The tallies of Martial Law," breaks down the numbers of the Marcos regime: The extrajudicial killings, the human rights violations, the sunk economy.
We have a discourse problem.
Issues become trivialized by a reduction to personality. We see this clearly in how the struggle of civil society against oppression during Martial Law has become distilled into a rather simplistic opposition of Marcos versus Aquino. Forgotten are the later-period deep-and-wide rejection of and resistance to the rule of Marcos by vast swathes of civil society around the country. The deeper issues surrounding Martial Law, only briefly touched on here, are ignored in positing the Marcos versus Aquino binary. That is a critical failure on our part, one that emboldens and empowers Marcos loyalists. While, perhaps superficially, families Marcos and Aquino have become the totems of opposing views on Philippine history, present, and future, we need to consider the deeper consequences of Martial Law and authoritarianism versus an open and multifaceted democratic space.
We must imbue the phrase “Never Again” with a variety of meanings: From the need for a deeper richer historical sense, the repudiation of historical denialism and forgetfulness, to a more political sense as a mantra against impunity and authoritarianism. All are needed in charting the future of the country.
What we cannot, should not, forget is: Revolution is civil war. Revolutions upend existing social and political order, however it is folly to think that everyone is in agreement with that upending, or even what the "new" social order should be. If we look at 1986 and the intervening years through the prism of civil war, we can easily deduce the arraying of forces: Loyalists who still adhere to the strong-man, Marcos informed dictatorial government, pro-democratic space advocates and all the multiplicity of views that entails. There were counter-coups and attempts at redeeming a fallen idol during the administration of Corazon Aquino, abetted by ‘former’ and extant Marcos loyalists. In part, we can view the resurrection of Fidel Ramos and some of the policies he enacted as another battle in an on-going civil war. There was the ascension of another loyalist and Marcos adherent in Erap Estrada, and post-GMA, the return of a scion of the Aquino family as a riposte in this continuing civil war. The fact remains that we are still gripped in the midst of the after-effects (perhaps even ongoing throes) of a convulsive civil war rooted in the 1986 EDSA Revolution and the toppling of the Marcos regime. 2016 loomed as yet another battlefield, one perhaps that was the most important since 1986. The aftermath left us in a precarious position, teetering as close as we ever have to a successful counter-revolution and the return of the Marcos family and their favored brand of governance to a dominant position in our political and social sphere.
From the Presidential Museum and Library Flickr account: "Cheering crowd burns the ex-president's portrait. Malaya, February 28, 1986. (From the newspaper collection of Mr. Jose Antonio Custodio.)" [via]
“Never Again” also speaks to something far deeper than just a clash of personalities. It is a rejection of that form of authoritarian governance, of the willingness for Filipinos to give up their liberty, to sacrifice the lives of neighbors and family members, for nothing more than the ephemeral sense of ‘security’ brought on by increasingly oppressive squads of police and military acting with impunity.
As we discussed, the very return of the Marcoses to politics was designed to push the continuation and redemption of the historical narrative crafted by Ferdinand Marcos. The ascension of a Marcos to Malacañang would have brought them one step closer to historical absolution. We came so close to seeing that reality. Marcos Jr. barely lost his race for the vice-presidency. But, as a result, while quiet for the time being, is now a potent political force.
On the other hand, President Rodrigo Duterte seems to view his campaign promise to bury Marcos in the Libingan as a moral and political imperative—willing to expend massive amounts of political capital to see it done. The effort by the Marcos family to inter Ferdinand Marcos in the Libingan is part of their closely held historical narrative, in fact it is part of its culmination. It confers on Marcos and his record the shine of legitimacy: Here lies Ferdinand Marcos, a soldier and a president. It is obscurantism through funerary rite. Yes, a man has a right to be buried in his country. But, burying Marcos there brings their view of Philippine history closer to redemption. No matter how it is spun, the end goal is not our redemption, nor is it our collective reconciliation.
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We have struggled to find a sense of national reconciliation with the Marcos Era.
Some sectors, including Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago  during the campaign period, have argued that an apology is not necessary . This has been proven false time and again in other countries wracked by similarly violent upheavals such as ours. Apologies matter and they help bring us closer to finding a common national redemption, not the absolution of the oppressors. Without an apology, “Never Again” has taken on a sort of totemic mantra for those who would deny the insidiousness of historical denialism and revisionism, who would deny the much sought after conclusion of the Marcos false historical narrative and the absolution of the Marcos family through their ascension to the pinnacle of Philippine political and social spheres.
“Never Again” is a rejection of that form of authoritarian governance, of the willingness for Filipinos to give up their liberty, to sacrifice the lives of neighbors and family members, for nothing more than the ephemeral sense of "security" brought on by increasingly oppressive squads of police and military acting with impunity.
For adherents (loyalists, as we have referred to them in this essay) of the Marcos regime, or at the very least the forms that entailed (dictatorial centralized strongman governance) the phrase “Never Again” is seen repudiation of their personality of choice. And it is, in a way. Yet, “Never Again” also speaks to something far deeper than just a clash of personalities. It is a rejection of that form of authoritarian governance, of the willingness for Filipinos to give up their liberty, to sacrifice the lives of neighbors and family members, for nothing more than the ephemeral sense of ‘security’ brought on by increasingly oppressive squads of police and military acting with impunity. “Never Again” is imbued with a historical sense of responsibility for safeguarding the future of our country, for ensuring that democratic spaces remain such that they are. Remember, government only has as much power is given.
What we cannot allow is “Never Again” to be reduced solely to repudiating the Marcos family; that opens up the reduction of discourse to simple discussions of personalities, it strips away the context of what the Marcos family stands for and how destructive the Marcos regime was for this country. That is what they want.
It is also a warning, one that we should continue to heed, against rampant pillaging and corrupt practices that bring a nation to its knees. Jose Rizal warned against this . Rizal specifically said that unless Filipinos learn to stand up, heads held high, and ready to proclaim themselves as Filipinos, they will just be fodder for further tyranny; the slaves of the past become the tyrants of today. Rizal was right. In his way, Rizal was demanding, calling, for the creation of a deep and abiding sense of historical self for the Filipino. Without that, we as a nation are ripe and ready for the next imperial master to come along, the next tyrant and dictator. When he wrote that warning the Philippines was under Spanish rule. We would suffer the indignities of the reign of three imperial masters after: the United States, Japan, and finally Ferdinand Marcos.
We must imbue the phrase “Never Again” with a variety of meanings: From the need for a deeper richer historical sense, the repudiation of historical denialism and forgetfulness, to a more political sense as a mantra against impunity and authoritarianism. All are needed in charting the future of the country. What we cannot allow is “Never Again” to be reduced solely to repudiating the Marcos family; that opens up the reduction of discourse to simple discussions of personalities, it strips away the context of what the Marcos family stands for and how destructive the Marcos regime was for this country. That is what they want.
Today, the Marcos family has almost successfully re-imagined Martial Law as a sort of Golden Age of benevolent authoritarianism—this sort of historical chicanery is enticing precisely because we lack a deep and enriching historical sense. Their historical denialism is winning. That is a loss for us all. “Never Again” speaks, not only of the Marcoses, but of a return to their way of thinking, to the abrogating of human rights for nebulous “peace and order,” for a return to state institutionalized plunder as a way of life, and the impunity of a nation subsumed and consumed by a Conjugal Dictatorship, lashed by the whims of a family. It stands against connecting patriotism and love of nation to the adoration of personality.
We must imbue the phrase “Never Again” with a variety of meanings: From the need for a deeper richer historical sense, the repudiation of historical denialism and forgetfulness, to a more political sense as a mantra against impunity and authoritarianism.
Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos well understood the power of history and compelling historical narrative. They used history to their advantage, crafting a state-sponsored mythologizing historical story supporting their regime and embedding in social consciousness the sheer ‘rightness’ of their rule. In their telling, they were the power from whence all else flowed in the Philippines—Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos were the fountainhead of Philippine nationalism. This is historical revisionism on a grand scale, abusive in ways we cannot fathom. We are still coping with the insidiousness of their story.
History informs identity. It cannot be left solely in the hands of those with nefarious agendas geared towards self-aggrandizement and ultimately the redemption of one of the darkest periods in our history. Historical denialism and grand revisionism attempts to remake us in the image of someone else. Denial and forgetting consumes the historical self and leaves nothing in its wake. By any other name, this is impunity.
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“Never Again” is a call to many things, for many different people. But at its heart, “Never Again” is a mantra, a talisman, against the insidiousness of historical denialism, a rejection of the debilitation of forgetting.
It is a reminder and a call to historical action and remembrance; to remember who we are, from where we came, and what we may yet become. We are not slaves, nor are we tyrants. Our history tells us this. Our past has the ability embolden and ennoble us, even as we reconcile with its dark notes. Even then, those dark periods are spaces from which we can draw strength and warnings for future actions and decisions. Those dark notes are who we are as well. History tells us who we are, in all of its facets. Our collective history is why we can proudly call ourselves Filipinos. We should never forget that.
This piece originally appeared in the author's website. We have reproduced it here with minor edits from the EsquireMag.ph editors.
Rappler, “Miriam Santiago: ‘Marcoses do not owe us an apology.”Those who have lived off of the fruits of corrupt and debilitating practices, who continue to interject themselves into our daily and political lives, for the sole purpose of rehabilitating their image and redeeming the utterly destructive regime of Ferdinand Marcos do owe us an apology, if only to help the country begin the process of healing. However, it is likely that apology will not be forthcoming. They do not believe there was anything wrong with Martial Law. That, that right there, their inability to see anything wrong with Martial Law should give us all pause. We must learn from the past, we must both transcend it and be informed by our history. That is historical sense and it widens and deepens our understanding of the present and the future. The Marcoses steadfastly refuse to do so. Why should we be lead by people as blind and benighted as that? We should not. Without an apology we must discover a new path towards reconciliation with our past. Perhaps it will be found in fully, deeply, understanding our history, as well as our role in it.
 Margaret MacMillan made this point especially clear in discussing the South African Apartheid: “The acceptance of responsibility and the act of repentance can be healthy for societies struggling to deal with past horrors. In South Africa, with the ending of apartheid, public figures, both black and white, began to talk about how to move on without allowing the past to tear society apart.” (25, Uses and Abuses of History) They chose a truth commission as their path to redemption. We have invited the Marcos family back into our political world. Apologies are denied and the wounds of Martial Law continue to haunt us.
 “So, while the Filipino has not the sufficient energy to proclaim, with head erect and bosom bared, its rights to social life, and to guarantee it with its sacrifices, with its own blood…while we see them wrap themselves up in their egotism and with a forced smile praise the more iniquitous actions, begging with their eyes a portion of the booty - why grant them liberty? With Spain or without Spain they would always be the same, and perhaps worst! Why independence, if the slaves of today will be the tyrants of tomorrow?” – Jose Rizal. Also, see my essay on Musings on Impunity, Tyranny, and the Slaves of Tomorrow.